Autoimmune disorders or disease is a term for many (over 100) conditions that affect more than 23 million Americans. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) has identified over 50 million Americans with an autoimmune disease. The rise in autoimmune disorders over the past 50 years has been at epidemic proportions.
Our immune system protects us from strangers to our bodies – viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. When the immune system attacks friendly forces, it is called an autoimmune response. An example is osteoarthritis. Collagen is isolated from the bloodstream. The autoimmune system kicked into gear immediately when trauma, wear out, or another cause exposes collagen to the bloodstream. Swelling, inflammation, heat, redness, and pain result.
The most common autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, celiac disease, and asthma. Since the ‘50s, celiac disease has increased by 400% and lupus and Crohn’s disease 300%. Type I diabetes is up 23% in the past ten years.
The protein, zonulin, was discovered in 2000. It regulates gut (intestinal tract) permeability. Nutrients from the foods we eat are passed through the wall of the intestine, through the immune system, and into the bloodstream where they are delivered to all parts of the body. When zonulin is produced in excess, the microscopic holes in the intestinal track allow harmful substances to pass through with other needed nutrients. Leaky gut is a term used to describe this condition.
The medical industry is at odds to clearly define leaky gut (intestinal permeability) as the cause of many health problems (autoimmune diseases). Functional and integrative-health doctors have a different viewpoint compared to conventional physicians. Conventional medicine does not believe in leaky gut or its cause for autoimmune disease.
Part of the problem with conventional medicine is that each disease is treated by different parts of the medical community. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) do not require autoimmune disease to be reported to them. As a result, there is no single database that allows a look at the big picture. No one is looking at the cause of the disease. They address the symptoms only.
Some researchers believe that toxins might be the cause of autoimmune disease. There are over 80,000 chemicals used in commercial products and less than 15,000 have been tested for safety. The average American is exposed to 126 chemicals in the bathroom. Personal care products are believed to be the cause of most (78%) of autoimmune sufferers being women.
What else might cause leaky gut other than toxins? The intestinal barrier can be compromised by stress, NSAIDs, excess alcohol consumption, radiation, chemotherapy, trauma, and infection. How do you know if you might have a leaky gut? Symptoms are vague and like many diseases. Gas, bloating, brain fog, food allergies, food intolerances, asthma, acne, fatigue, and many skin conditions.
Many doctors believe leaky gut is a myth or hoax and, as such, consider that there is no reliable evidence to prove that leaky gut exists. If you can’t diagnose it, you can’t treat it, and you can’t cure it. If it doesn’t exist, then leaky gut must be a scam.
Diseases are complex and knowing a cause doesn’t guarantee a cure. If a disease was initiated in the gut, healing the gut may have no effect on a disease that has taken up residence in another part of the body. Regardless, healing the gut should be paramount to improved health. It is akin to ensuring that you have no nutrient deficiencies – some of which can cause disease.
My research shows that the level of gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, can trigger increases in zonulin. Many people have a mild sensitivity to gluten and have minor symptoms that irritate us but not to the extent we need to see a doctor.
Symptoms might include one or more of the following – bloated or swollen belly after eating, frequent diarrhea and constipation, abdominal pain after eating, headaches without apparent cause, constant fatigue, skin issues, depression, unexplained weight loss, joint and muscle pain, arm and leg numbness.
Our gut is our second brain. If the gut is having a problem, the brain is likely to follow suit. Brain fog can include difficulty thinking, mental fatigue, lack of clarity, and forgetfulness. The symptoms listed above are generic and can be caused by many factors. If you notice you have consistently one or more symptoms after eating foods with gluten, please remember to tell your physician at your next annual physical.
Some of the potential contributors to intestinal permeability can be seen easily and avoided – NSAIDs, alcohol, nutrient deficiencies. Stress can be managed. Infection can be treated. However, gluten is contained in many foods and drinks. It is hidden under several different names. Unless you know what you are looking for it is difficult to recognize it.
Autoimmune disease is an epidemic today. It continues to grow annually. Zonulin is the only known regulator of intestinal permeability. There are several things that can disrupt the ability of our gut to absorb food properly and provide us with nutrition for excellent health.
Awareness is the first step to prevent or moderate potential health problems. Left unchecked for years can lead to serious health problems later in life.